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2013 mostly wet (with a dab of dry) election in the books

The Park Hill neighborhood in North Little Rock voted overwhelmingly to lift a 50-year-old ban on alcohol sales in the neighborhood. It was formerly a small pocket of dry districts in an otherwise wet county. As reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (warning: pay wall), 607 people voted wet to just 107 people who voted dry. That's 85% to 15%, for a whopping 70% margin.

Most people weren't aware of this, but districts within a wet county can call a special election on several alcohol-related topics. Individual voting districts can vote dry (or back wet, like Park Hill). 

In contrast, countywide wet-or-dry elections must take place on Election Day in November in even-numbered years. However, because the Park Hill election wasn't a countywide issue, it could be placed on the ballot during a special election after a petition drive by sponsors.

In some places, like Clark, Boone, and Madison Counties that recently voted wet, city boards and even quorum courts can call a special "mixed drink" election. The local option laws require this separate election. Voters get to decide whether restaurants can sell mixed drinks and liquor without a private club license during normal operating hours. The legislature considered removing the mixed drink special election in 2011, but it narrowly failed in the State Senate.

Private club licenses are a burden. The mixed drink election law puts businesses in places like Clark County at a disadvantage because the costs are much higher. Two examples: first, the private club license is more expensive. Second, restaurants cannot buy liquor directly from wholesalers. Third, the paperwork requirements are much higher, as private clubs require an Arkansas non-profit corporation in existence for at least a year and a roll of at least 100 members. These regulations scare many folks out of trying to serve liquor.

You may remember that Benton County voted wet in 2012. Their legislators lobbied for and received an exemption from the mixed drink election law. The new law permits counties (and towns within those counties) having more than 100 private clubs as of the November 2012 election to authorize mixed drink sales by ordinance, rather than a special election.

I understand having private club licenses if you want to stay open until 5am or have a bar in a dry county — these matters create added enforcement pressure on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and local cops. But simply adding different kinds of drinks to an existing restaurant that doesn't stay open terribly late creates no such burden.

Our private club laws are behind the times. Since getting rid of private clubs in 2009, even Utah (home of the Mormon Church) has more reasonable alcohol laws than we do here in Arkansas. It's time to get rid of the wet/dry two-step.

In the meantime, if you're interested in any type of wet/dry, mixed drink, or other local option election, please give me a call or check out our blog posts on the topic.